Nomad’s Land

Left: Urs Fischer’s Yurt at the NYC section of Station to Station. (Photo: Alayna Van Dervort, courtesy of LUMA Foundation) Right: Artist Doug Aitken (center). (Photo: Station to Station)

“WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE?” asked the cabbie as he dropped me off at a usually desolate Williamsburg street corner on a recent Friday evening that was now bustling with Fashion Week escapees. A reasonable question, but one without a straightforward answer. “Uh, an art-and-music thing?” I replied, hopefully, to his understandable bemusement. The official description of “Station to Station,” which had set up temporary shop at Kent Avenue’s Riverfront Studios, felt somehow too high-flown to convey in a nutshell: “A nomadic ‘Happening’ on a train that visits cities, towns and remote locations. A moving platform for artistic experimentation, Station to Station is an artist-created project that embraces constantly changing stories, unexpected encounters and creative collisions between artists, musicians and creative pioneers.” Exactly.

Organized by Doug Aitken, Station to Station’s coast-to-coast tour is scheduled to stop at nine different locations over the course of the month. A fund-raiser for “non-traditional programming” at various partner institutions, it’s also a marketing opportunity for a certain well-known brand of jeans. “Are you from Levi’s Europe?” a Marnie-from-Girls lookalike asked me at the press desk. Being from the continent, but not from the manufacturer, I was redirected. Once in, someone pressed a slip of paper into my hand that I assumed was a drink ticket but which turned out, disappointingly, to be a suggested Twitter hashtag. Already performing in the parking lot were the Kansas City Marching Cobras, a marching band that did their synchronized thing with irrepressible gusto. A general atmosphere of hype suffused the place; there were more cameras per square foot here than at any event I’ve attended recently, all snapping away at anything novel or proximate.

Left: Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti performs at Station to Station. (Photo: Brian Doyle, courtesy of 303 Gallery) Right: Kansas City Marching Cobras at Station to Station. (Photo: Ye Rin Mok, courtesy of Station to Station)

Scanning the crowd for familiar faces, I clocked MoMA PS1 curator Peter Eleey striding somewhere purposefully; ditto, in another direction, 303 Gallery director Cristian Alexa. “Social practice” wallah Claire Bishop and Parkett US senior editor Nikki Columbus rolled up carrying yellow plastic discs, components of Carsten Höller’s Ball and Frisbee House. Informed that bands including Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti would be playing later on, Bishop grumbled, “Who are they? I hate live music.” Columbus was at least prepared to stick it out, alongside the dozens of mostly youngish art-music-fashion partisans.

“Oh come on, it’s Ernesto Neto, it’ll be worth it!” urged a nearby enthusiast to her friend as she entered one of the cluster of small tents filling the grassy area around which we were milling. These five “Nomadic Sculptures” housed work by Kenneth Anger, Urs Fischer, and Liz Glynn, as well as by the aforementioned Höller and Neto. Most had the air of nonrelaxing chill-out rooms and required one to line up, remove one’s shoes, or cram oneself into a confined space in anticipation of some unspecified reward. In Anger’s enclosure, the filmmaker’s Invocation of My Demon Brother, 1969, Lucifer Rising, 1970–81, and Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954, were screened on monitors that surrounded a pentagram-shaped seating arrangement. Nice, though hardly, as the event brochure trumpeted, a “groundbreaking installation” representing “the culmination of the 86-year-old artist’s work.” At least, I hope not.

Left: Artist Rirkrit Tiravanija. (Photo: Alayna Van Dervort, courtesy of LUMA Foundation) Right: The NYC section of Station to Station. (Photo: Brian Doyle, courtesy of 303 Gallery)

Lured inside by the promise of “food curation” by Alice Waters and Leif Hedendal, I found Sub Pop rockers No Age thrashing away on stage and a sort of miniature sweatshop in operation at the back of the hall. This featured individuals producing “new products in real time.” The experience was intimate in the way that Printed Matter’s annual NY Art Book Fair is intimate, which is to say it shoehorned the viewer into such uncomfortable closeness to the artists that any less-than-diplomatic response became completely untenable. (Printed Matter was also part of the event, having contributed a set of artists’ posters that was pasted up in some of the site’s corners.)

A kind of greatest hits of video art program—which included evergreen crowd-pleasers like Fischli/Weiss’s The Way Things Go, 1987, alongside more recent efforts like Nicolas Provost’s Gravity, 2007—filled the gaps between bands until finally, headliners Suicide, whose buzz-saw synth noise was in sharp contrast to the aforementioned Ariel Pink’s gauzy, “hypnagogic” soft rock, brought the loose-knit night to a conclusion. Tottering around the stage cane in hand, vocalist Alan Vega retains an unnerving presence in his seventy-fifth year; I hope he took the rapid thinning of the crowd as a compliment. Kids today…